Saturday, May 21, 2016

No. 69 Simon Coleby

First Prog: 647
Latest Prog: 1948

First Meg: 3.66 (aka 170)
Latest Meg: 230

Total appearances: 126
-including the ‘Funeral for a Friend’ poster strip bagged with a Megazine one time.
but not including the IDW Judge Dredd: Year 1 series (although it’s worth noting that’s the best thing yet to come from the IDW Dredd-iverse).

Embracing the trope of Dredd as proper bastard
Words by Garth Ennis
 Creator Credits:
Bato Loco

Other art credits:
Universal Soldier
Judge Dredd
Rogue Trooper (both versions)
Venus Bluegenes
The Simping Detective
Low Life

Notable character creations:
Bato Loco
Rafaella Blue (I think he drew her first?)
Atalia Jaegir

Notable characteristics:
Characters of glorious ugliness. Sideways slanty mouths. Action that draw the reader across the page. There’s surely a better word for it, but his current style brings to mind the word ‘gnarly’.
Oh, and having a super-recognisable somewhat plasticy old style:

Well-defined lines, straight up cartooning

Followed by a years-later, recognisable but super-different grizzly style:
Moodier, darker, more morally ambiguous.

On Simon:
Simon Coleby has proved the longest-serving of a great wave of Simons* who joined 2000AD in the late 80s / early 90s. He’s also undergone perhaps the most radical re-invention of the all. Basically, there’s early Simon Coleby, who is chunky and garish and angular and action packed (and a ton of fun). And mostly in full colour.

A very simple face design that conveys all you need to know about this dude right here.
Words by Alan McKenzie
Then there’s contemporary Simon Coleby, who’s equally action-packed, but also super-detailed, scary, moody, and kind of amazing. And mostly in black and white.

The new style - requires 150% more ink. This time, character is conveyed in clothing and body language as well as the faces.
Words by Rob Williams
(Arguably not quite as big a shift as his contemporary Carl Critchlow, but that’s mostly because Critchlow started out painting, so it’s much more obvious how different it is. Still Coleby’s new stuff has a whole different bag of tricks from his old stuff.)

It’s not fair to speak ill of an artist in their early days, but I will say that I found something about Coleby’s early stuff, along the lines that it felt like I might just be able to draw like him. Not to say that he wasn’t a good draughtsman, but I found his style unintimidating; his storytelling very straightforward. This is probably most apparent in his very first story, Universal Soldier II. Where the first book by Will Simpson was rain-soaked, a bit grimy and sometimes tough to follow, Coleby’s Book II was refreshingly easy. In all honesty, I hadn’t a clue about the back story when I first read it, but taken on its own as a sort of post-Robin Hood pre-Braveheart war story, it was jolly fun.

Check out how everything slopes a little bit down and to the right. Basic dynamism, or a wonky desk?
Words by Alan McKenzie
Coleby started pushing the boat out when he moved to Dredd and FrIday-era Rogue Trooper. He started pulling faces this way and that, unafraid to embrace the old cartoonist standby of exaggeration. If it sometimes erred too far into silly, so be it. I mean, what else do you do when the story calls for a character with a detachable jaw big enough to swallow a fat man whole?

That is a bold head:helmet ratio right there.
Words by Garth Ennis
Actually, what really stuck out to me as a young reader were Coleby’s faces. Particularly the mouths. Even more particularly, the constant downward slope.

Down and to the right...
Words by Michael Fleisher
Even the punches go down and to the right.
Words by Michael Fleisher

You could also argue a case for Coleby following contemporary fashions for mega-muscled body-builder types, along with endless spraying bullets. Coupled with grimaces. Certainly Dredd at the time was falling into this pattern. Coleby I think fit the bill well, not least with his facility for drawing moronic cits (and arguably a few not-too-smart bureaucrats, too).

So many bullet cartridges! More sloping foreheads!
Words by Michael Fleisher
 This style served Coleby well enough for a few years, reaching its apex with a short stint on Venus Bluegenes.

The gnarliness is creeping in. Also, giant lips.
Words by Dan Abnett
Who you callin' fish lips, lady?
Words by Dan Abnett
Rogue Trooper: cool, original flavour.
And then nothing for around six years (perhaps a victim of the Bishop cull?) – before he exploded back into view working with Gordon Rennie (a choice made by both? Or perhaps a canny editor who saw a neat fit). His work on the back to basics Rogue Trooper series was a revelation of monochrome glory. Deliriously craggy villains, a Rogue that managed to be both muscley and lithe at the some time – that’s a clever trick right there.

You want an angry bad guy face? I'll give you an angry bad guy face!!
Words by Gordon Rennie
And then just casually introducing Rafaella Blue, a character who would go on to have her own series.

Chunky guns, thick-soled boots, massive zip - yup, this girl's ready for a career in 2000AD.
Words by Gordon Rennie
Over in the Meg, and still with Rennie for much of it, Coleby made a return to the world of Dredd. Sticking with the new style, it’s perfectly made to capture old, grizzled Dredd. Something about the way Coleby adds in shadows and wrinkles everywhere. It’s not that his Dredd is super-aged looking (as some artists have it), more that everything about him, from chin to boots, is gnarled.

Grizzled, chiselled and gnarled all in one.
Words by Gordon Rennie (I think)
Just a deliriously fun angle to highlight a comedy chase.
Words definitely by Gordon Rennie
Most memorably was Bato Loco, a comedy foil who also went on to have his own very occasional solo outings. Now, there are of course some eyebrows to be raised at the very idea of ethnic stereotyping in this kind of character (I think he’s theoretically Puerto Rican, but at this point in MC1 history, you’ve got to wonder if there’s a steady supply of new immigrants or if it’s just a community that makes a point of latching onto old accents).

BUT Rennie I think knew what he was doing. He’s working in a Wagner/Grant tradition of equal opportunities laughing at everyone, and in fact bringing some diversity of character in. Above all, Bato Loco as a story is a comedy effort, with the hero’s own attitude (and idiocy) being the point, coupled with absurdly convoluted plot machinations not some suggestion that this is in fact endemic to all Puerto Rican New Yorkers or what have you. I hope.
Coleby, of course, was along for the ride of drawing pictures to sell the character and his womanizing ways, which he does very adeptly.

On to Malone, in which a man with a past attempts to rescue a troubled waif but is haunted by visions of an especially terrifying clown. We all know what it means now, sure, but at the time it was pretty odd. It read like a standard noir story, but the clown, and indeed a heightened atmosphere added by Coleby, gave it something of the horror. It all clicked together especially well.

Tharg's second go-around at the 'scary clown' subgenre. More please!
Words by Dan Abnett

Coleby next clicked well with Rob Williams on Low Life. I’m not sure if it was either man’s intention or desire, but as a pair they moved the strip from a serious action story that investigated doubt into a comedy action story that investigated the depths of weirdness of MC-1, with unusual characters being the order of the day – characters that dominate the plot, to be frank (pun intended, I guess).

Good comics is all about the characters, yes?
Words by Rob Williams

Babies that actually look like babies! Not often as well-handled as Coleby manages here.
Words by Rob Willaims
Crucially, all these outings were in black and white. It’s a good fit for Coleby, but something about his heavily inked style can occasionally make the foreground and background blend together, losing a modicum of clarity. I don’t think this was a direct cause, but since then we’ve seen first the odd splash of colour in Simping Detective

Who is that red-headed lady? Why, it's former Judge Galen DeMarco
Words by Si Spurrier
and then full-on mood-enhancing cover on Jaegir, Coleby’s fourth outing into the world of Rogue Trooper (which I guess makes him the artistic curator of that Universe at this point).

There's not much colour in Jaegir, but it makes a difference
Words by Gordon Rennie
Jaegir is inhabited by monsters of all stripes, both physically and emotionally. That gnarliness is front and centre. Coleby does an especially standout job on showing the characters’ inner turmoil.

The eyes, the wrinkles, the posture - it all speaks to a haunted past.
Words by Gordon Rennie
Comedy and Tragedy, Action and Emotion - he makes it look easy!

More on Simon Coleby:
An IDW-hosted interview mostly about his IDW Dredd

iFanboy has a piece, opening with the question of whether this 25-year career artist counts as an upstart…

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: School Bully; The Flabfighters; My beautiful career
Universal SoldierII
Friday: I retain a soft spot for the Saharan Ice Belt war.
Rogue Trooper: all Coleby’s episodes in the Rennie series were spectacular
Malone: probably my all-time fave of Coleby’s work.
Bato Loco: always a treat
Low Life: Rock and a Hard Place
Jaegir: I’m not 100% on board with this series, but the art is stellar.

*Harrison; Bisley; Jacob, Davis, and, a little later, Fraser. And perhaps the mysterious SMS. (Not to mention writers Geller, Furman, Spencer and Spurrier)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No. 68 Carl Critchlow

First Prog: 700
Latest Prog: 1856 (cover); 1844 (strip art)

First Meg: 2.63 (aka 83)
Latest Meg: 238

Total appearances: 128
-including a small count for Thrud the Barbarian, part reprinted in the Megazine and which has a full episode available to read on Barney

Creator Credits:
Lobster Random

That is some pectoral workout
on Mean Angel right there.
Other art credits:
Nemesis & Deadlock
Mean Machine
Judge Dredd
Batman/Judge Dredd
Tales of Telguuth (and a single Future Shock)

Notable character creations:
Lobster Random
Son of Mean Machine
Judge Sinfield

Notable characteristics:
Cragginess (in his line, not his personality, I’m sure!). Grimaces. Swirly smoke. A willingness to tackle pretty much anything a writer throws at him. Comedy faces.

Perhaps more than any other long-serving artist, having an old style (fully painted) and a new style (pen and ink cartooning)*. 

It's a metaphorical metamorphosis
Context by John Wagner

On Carl:
There’s no getting away from the two distinct eras of Carl Critchlow art. He entered the scene as a painter, suffering as much as any 2000AD droid from printing issues during the much-mocked ‘brown period’. (To the extent that perhaps it was his own decision to go for super-bright tones on Son of Mean Machine and Batman/Dredd.)

Critchlow Stage 1
Context by Pat Mills

A very brief mid-period took in a couple of memorable episodes of Tales of Telguuth.

Critchlow Stage 2
Words by Steve Moore
Before Critchlow delivered his current signature style on a bunch of Dredds, and his major new creation for 2000AD, Lobster Random.

Critchlow Stage 3
Words by John Wagner
 I don’t have a full sense of the timescales involved, but I can well believe that this cartoony style was in fact Critchlow’s default setting.** The painted work was purely a result of the fashion of the time. Yes, a post-Bisley fashion.

Anyway, back to the beginning! Critchlow got his first work with Pat Mills, a privilege and a challenge in equal measure. Nemesis & Deadlock required a deft tonal balance of occult styling mixed with straight up comedy. A painted Nemesis inherently meant losing some of the delightful detail that was so prominent on the original incarnation of the character. On the other hand, concocting a cast of colourful murder suspects was something Critchlow made look easy.

Which one of these seven faces could hide guilt? WHICH ONE??!!
Words by Pat Mills

And speaking of privilege, it’s pretty big deal that he was tapped to bring Flesh back to the Prog. A story I knew only in passing from reprints at the time, it remains perhaps the most fondly remembered original strips (from those readers who have been here since Prog 1, that is1). There’s the inherent hook of Cowboys vs Dinosaurs, coupled with the promise of gaping teeth and gory death. So when the story came back to the Prog, it was going to be something special, right?

The murkiness here is only partly my fault! That damn brown period.
Words by Pat Mills

Legend of Shamanna didn’t do Critchlow any favours. Frankly, it’s a weird story. Sure, there’s the fun central idea of a human raised to be a dinosaur, but ditching the cowboy angle meant the strip lost its weekly sense of fun. That said, my favourite parts of Critchlow’s work here were the panels showing campy/beefy construction worker-types wielding massive chainsaws. And then getting chomped, of course. His sneering suits and caring scientists provided some laughs, too.

Happy jolly slaughterhouse staff. Light relief in Flesh III
Context by Pat Mills, but the pink vest is surely Critchlow's own choice

And he certainly delivered on the massive teeth and gory deaths.

Like other comics in the 1990s, 2000AD was not averse to a little saliva strand action.
At least here it's appropriate!

But you could sort of tell, both here and on Son of Mean Machine, that Critchlow wasn’t entirely comfortable with the style he was presumably mandated into. There’s some fantastic detail, and you can see the cartooning he would become known for fighting to break out from beneath the paint with the exaggerated expressions. But I for one would love to see both stories re-done in his current style…

For me, a refinement in style began with Judge Dredd/Batman: the Ultimate Riddle

That's one way to make room for a massive chunky logo I guess

Bizarre cover design aside, there’s some fun on the inside, and his Dredd here is the most granite-hewn the big chin has ever been. Critchlow isn’t an old man (although hopefully he will be one day!), but he certainly has a facility for rendering them. 

Delightful dichotomy
Words by Wagner & Grant

I’m surprised he hasn’t done more Dredd – it seems like he’s a regular Dredd artist but in fact he’s not produced all that many – it’s just that what he has worked on has been suitably memorable, from a revisit to the wolf judges of the Undercity to Mandroid II. And yes, this is where new-look Critchlow kicks in.

Dredd's face has the same texture as the concrete walls.
Words by John Wagner

More expert geriatric renderings coupled with comedy robots
Words by John Wagner

Splendid stuff! Almost instantly a reliable Dredd-drawer, Critchlow was then tapped to introduce Deputy Sinfield, later to become a uniquely malevolent Dredd villain. And, in perhaps the ultimate test, he had the job of tying together the epic of Trifecta. Obviously he was doing his own thing, but to an extent his task was to synthesize the work of Henry Flint, Simon Coleby and D’Israeli. Oh, and draw a city-sized spacecraft crash landing on Earth. Amazing.

But I think its safe to say that for most readers, Critchlow’s name remains synonymous with his (to date) only series creation, Lobster Random. The inherent nature of the character and the ultra-convoluted plotting marks this as Spurrier’s idea, but Critchlow sure did bring it to life.

The red, blue, orange colour scheme sets the tone perfectly.

 The man can basically draw anything the story throws at him. I mean, crotchety dude with scaled-up lobster claws coming out of his torso is challenge enough. As is depicting him in various states of salacious congress with robot-y companions. And then there's the cast of villains who dog our hero at every turn, often with explodey violence. Dude with a dinosaur sticking out of his head? A whole, life-sized dinosaur? No problem - not when you've already drawn a mass of camera-eyed alien goop, and a trip to the psychosphere...

Random gets stuck in, tooth and claw
Words by Si Spurrier

The Zaparazzi! In Critchlow's imaginative hands, it's like something out of Screaming Mad George...
Words by Si Spurrier

I haven't been giving Critchlow enough credit for his wild colour schemes
Words by Si Spurrier

In the end, it’s Random’s expressions that make the story fun. He’s crabby by default, but also excitable, irascible, mean-tempered, rolly-eyed and, on occasion, delighted by a challenge. Even if said challenge involves torturing the untorturable.

Not too many 2000AD characters get to fall in love.
Words by Si Spurrier
One final expression: resignation
Words by Si Spurrier
Now why hasn’t he been in the Prog lately, that’s what I want to know. Too busy drawing Magic cards

More on Carl Critchlow:
His own website
Returning to the world of Flesh on Covers Uncovered
An interview on Amazing Stories

Nemesis vs Deadlock: wait, arent they supposed tobe the same person, somehow?
Words by Pat Mills

Personal favourites:
Nemesis & Deadlock: The Enigmass Variations (what can I say, I love mysteries, and it was a formative time for me as a reader…)
Judge Dredd: Out of the Undercity; Backlash; Trifecta; Scavengers
Tales of Telguuth: (both his episodes)
Lobster Random (artwise, all of it!)

*With the possible exception of the very next hero to feature on the countdown…

**Certainly judging by his work on Thrud the Barbarian, which is highly recommended

Sunday, May 1, 2016

No. 67 Andy Diggle

First Prog: 1100ish (as editorial assistant); 1200 (as editor); 1280 (as writer)
Latest Prog: (as editor) 1273; (as writer) 1799

First Meg: 3.64 (as editor) 3.68 (as writer) [or, in real terms, 167/171]
Latest Meg: 3.68 (as editor) 330 (as writer)

Total appearances: 126
-of which 47 are for his writing, including his creator-owned work from the Megazine.

and to be honest, I’ve short-changed Mr Diggle quite outrageously. For some reason I hadn’t totted up his stint as Bish-Op’s assistant when I drew up my tally way back at the start of the project. I don’t know exactly when he joined the team as assistant editor, but I believe it was around Prog 1100, and that’d give him an actual total count of 226. I’m sure one high-ranking 2000AD hero in particular* won’t be sad that Diggle has dropped so low on the hero count, even if by all other accounts he’s a decent chap.

Diggle as he wished to be perceived: in command!
Art by Henry Flint
Creator Credits:
Lenny Zero

A Diggle-esque double-cross?
Art by Ben Willsher
Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd vs Aliens

Notable character creations:
Lenny Zero

Notable characteristics:
Old school sensibilities. Plotting plotty plots. Characters with a cynical edge and maybe a hidden emotional side. Twisty turny plotty stories. Stories grounded in the real world, or at least, a slightly heightened version of the real world. Movie-ready dialogue. More than a passing interest in tech and hardware. Manly men who aren’t really that manly (and that’s part of the point).

On Andy the editor:
Let’s face it, the man is never going to get away from the phrase “shot glass of rocket fuel”. It’s a phrase he included in a memo to all writers and artists written and distributed shortly after he took over as editor. I think it’s fair to say that the tone of the comic did change noticeably under his tenure, and subsequent thrills did have something of the short, explosive bursts of excitement about them. So that’s nice.

I think it’s also fair to say Diggle was a bit of an idiot to send the same memo to Pat Mills, creator of the comic. He could at least have added a covering note telling him that he was worried about the state of the comic and wanted to get the creative team excited by the idea of a new direction, hence this memo, which he was sending to Mills as a courtesy, not as a call to arms! Presumably he had his reasons.**

ANYWAY that train has long since sailed. Let’s talk about Dig-L’s wider editorial influence, shall we?

Summing up the Dig-L mission statement via Dredd. Phallic imagery unintentional?
Art by Jock

It’s hard to say how much this was Diggle, and how much the legacy of David Bishop, under whom Diggle earned his assistant editorial stripes. No doubt a bit of both. History (pace Mills) likes to record Diggle as the point at which 2000AD really turned around, and got reliably exciting again, with all hint of media-pandering and pretentiousness excised. It’s not quite as straightforward as that, but I think readers can pick out some specific qualities that marked Diggle’s two-year turn as Tharg.

In particular, there were almost no epics – even Dredd only had ‘Helter Skelter’ – instead it was all about of one-off serieses that were short but perfectly formed. In fact, formed perfecetlyy to fit into a European Album format (think: Rain Dogs). This may have had nothing to do with Diggle per se, and just be coincidence of some upper management decision. Some of these series (think: Vanguard) were clear attempts to generate new, ongoing/recurring series. That the genuine one-off stories (e.g. Necronauts, Love Like Blood) were better than the potential ongoing stories is mere coincidence). In any case, it neatly bridges the stylistic gap to Matt Smith, who has proven to be the master of this format.

Diggle also upheld the Bishop tradition of keeping up other regulars in the Prog besides Dredd. In his case, that meant plenty of outings for Sinister Dexter (still in the early delightful shorts phase), and Nikolai Dante (which was enjoying the combo of the generally gritty but also wonderful Tsar Wars, and the return to romping with Gentleman Thief.)

Perhaps the most notable Diggle feature was proactively re-engaging with thrills and droids of the past. Particular favourites were Steve Moore and Colin Wilson on the droid side, and getting Rogue Trooper and ABC Warriors back on track on the thrill side. Diggle openly embraced the fact that readers wished the Prog could be as great as it had been in the old days – but also managed (I think) to make sure it felt new, too.

So, despite their apparent mutual hatred, Diggle got Mills to provide the superfun Deadlock (which I maintain is really Nemesis Book XI), and to send the full ABC Warriors team back to Mars to engage in a series of short adventures, mixing up artists. ABC Warriors: The Third Planet wasn’t as great as Deadlock, but it marked a change in fortune for the mek-nificent seven, who got good again for quite a while before floundering in a morass of weird rehashing in recent years.

More obviously successful was the latest attempt to recapture Rogue Trooper

Another cover with an old favourite blasting the reader in the face.
Art by Jock
It’s under Diggle that we got Tor Cyan. (As opposed to another series of Mercy Heights, I guess) It’s another example of a strip that hasn’t held up quite so well in the long run, but at the time felt like ten breaths of fresh air. Not least because of the art team: returning artist Colin Wilson, swapped tales with a masterful Kevin Walker, and new superstar on the block, Jock. And with several short, punchy episodes, Tor Cyan certainly fit the shotglass metaphor. Basically, he shot things and ruminated on how bad it felt, all with stunning landscapes in the background, with writer John Tomlinson’s trademark witty banter keeping it from being too gloomy.

Diggle had a go at scripting the original Rogue Trooper, too. He's the biochip in the gun this time.
Art by Colin Wilson

Wilson’s style in particular kind of epitomises the idea of nostalgia and modernity. It hadn’t really changed from his work in the early 80s – but even at that time, it stuck out as kinda new-fangled. And it has that real-world, only just in the future feel that seems to be Diggle’s preferred milieu, judging from his writing. Again, Wilson's work on Rain Dogs is a great example of the comic trying to recapture the feeling of Progs from the early 80s, while also delivering an entirely new story.

Rain Dogs: better than Disaster 1990
Art by Colin Wilson
 And as if that wasn’t enough, Diggle was the man in charge when 2000AD got an elegant new version of its longest-running logo. (With a large helping of thanks to new owners Rebellion, who no doubt encouraged/endorsed the choice.)

New, streamlined Logo; Also new mean-lined Tharg.
Art by Kevin Walker

Diggle also gambled hard on wooing veteran writer Steve Moore back to the fold, launching him onto several, potentially ongoing, concerns. You can’t really fault Diggle for the fact that it just didn’t work out this way. Moore’s basic craftsmanship means his work is always worth reading, but for whatever reasons he had much greater success with his short stories than with his longer ones. So it was that Diggle had to balance the relatives lows of Red Fang and Killer with the highs of Tales of Telguuth.

A selection of new thrills as brought to you by Dig-L Tharg.

As I am fond of pointing out on the editor-based entries, it’s right and proper to give these dudes some credit for nurturing new talent. Not always clear-cut to say it was one editor not another, but Diggle I think was a big part of the DreddCon pitchfest concept, giving hope to new writers, and indeed yielding lasting great Si Spurrier.

And then on the art side, there was reigning house artist and Tharg recreator Kevin Walker, serving as the tentpole, and explosively exciting newcomers in the form of Frazer Irving and Jock.

And let's not forget that Diggle had a short but not unworthy stint as editor of the Judge Dredd Megazine, steering it from the widely hated Volume 3 (the one that was chock full of reprints) and the much-loved Volume 4 (the one where each issue was the saize of a phone book. Or so it felt at the time).

Main art by Colin Wilson - who else would
Diggle use to make a mission statement?
What Diggle wants from his comic:
Johnny Alpha shooting the reader in the face.
Art by Dylan Teague

Diggle somehow managed to get just a bit of extra new strip into the Meg, and also took the decision to ditch Preacher in favour of some old Strontium Dog reprints. If nothing else, it served as a way for him to say 'this is what I loved in the old days, let's have more like this, shall we?' And on that note, let's move on to:

Andy the writer:
Andy Diggle as writer got quite a bit less play in 2000AD. One imagines this was largely by the man’s own choice – he’s written plenty of comics for other publishers, many of them rather good***. 

Diggle DID print one of his own stories as editor, and did allow his own hero to get the better of Dredd.
But he clearly gets that it's not always wise to aloow this sort of thing.
Art by Jock

His first effort, Lenny Zero, was spectacularly well-received. Thanks in large part to the aforementioned Jock, for sure. I can’t imagine the series without his input, to the extent that I wonder how much Diggle and Jock worked on the opening episode together. That said, the success of the strip is also very much down to Diggle’s deft plotting and simple characterization. He put his money where his memo was, conjuring up an engaging character, putting him through his paces, and telling a satisfying story all in a single episode. And then did it again a couple more times.

Lenny Zero: made for the screen?
Art by Jock
Re-reading it lately, it’s not quite as explosively exciting as it felt at the time, but it’s still good stuff, suggesting that Diggle knew how to write comics from the get-go. And he's using a deliberate style in his narration and dialogue that brings the basic story to life. A modern-noir style, you might say. It also helped a lot that Lenny Zero was, to my mind, the first winning all-new character to arrive in the Megazine since Devlin Waugh (No offence to Missionary Man and Shimura, but they took a long time to really get going, I thought).

Zero's childhood, or Diggle's own?
Art by Jock

His return to the character a decade later on the long form series Zero’s 7 was an utter delight. Yes, obviously homaging Ocean’s 11, and yes, relying in some measure on details of the world of Mega-City 1, but filtered through a clever brain. And it proved that Jock wasn’t needed – Ben Willsher did a bang-up job on art duties.

ten years laer, still talking like a movie hero, still waiting for the twist to kick in.
Art by Ben Willsher

Diggle’s other big hit was also in the world of Dredd, namely Incubus, the Aliens crossover. Co-credited to John Wagner, but how much was written by the big man remains unclear. What is clear, though, is that it’s a contender for all-time greatest inter-company crossover ever.**** 

Diggle almost goes full Millar, but pulls back at the last minute.
Art by Henry Flint
It nails Dredd, as you might expect, but I also found it retained the most thrilling bits of Aliens, the most relevant of the films to an action story with a cast of expendable characters.

For fun times with Xenomorphs, bring along a cast that can be safely picked off.
Art by Henry Flint
Not at all similar was Diggle’s first and, to date, only entirely original series for Tharg, Snow/Tiger. Perhaps in some respects it was too timely for its own good, with its story of Islamic profiling, terrorism and moral uncertainty, all while the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay were regular headlines in the real world. Indeed, the story is barely science fiction at all (I now can’t remember if it was meant to be vaguely futuristic, or merely cutting edge).

Snow has a trick up her sleeve
Art by Andy Clarke

 Of course, if you’re writing a story called Snow/Tiger, about two leads characters called Ms Snow and Mr Tiger (or whatever their real names were), then the story has to be about character. And it never really had enough time to develop, being as it was mostly an action thriller with plenty of commendably wordless action.


Not skimping on the violence!
Art by Andy Clarke

Nothing wrong with that, but it meant that across the only two stories we got, the characters never quite got beyond the broad strokes of brash dickhead man + uptight but supercompetent woman. Aspirations of being Pride & Prejudice in the Counter-Terrorist Unit lurked in their somewhere, and that’s as good a literary touchstone as you get.

You might think the two leads espouse differing political views. You'd be right.
Art by Andy Clarke
Never answer someone else's phone!
Art by Jock
Snapshot, his creator-owned series in the Meg a decade later had less of that problem. Somewhat embarrassingly, I can’t at this moment recall how that series plays out, but I do remember being hooked in by an exciting opening. 

If it suffered, it was from a problem that seems to beset many a ‘wrong man’ thriller: the character at the centre of the story is meant to be a stand-in for the reader, basically an ordinary guy. Except he’s kind of a knob. No shortage of those in the real world, to be sure, but it did put me off. 

Wise old cop meets wise-ass kid. Diggle knows his tropes.
Art by Jock
Of course, had Diggle gone for a squeaky-clean type as the hero, it wouldn’t have helped, and certainly wouldn’t have felt very 2000AD. And if we know anything about Andy Diggle, he knows what makes for good 2000AD.

More on Andy Diggle:
Start with his blog:
Specifically, here’s an old blog post where he reprints his notorious memo
And here’s a short piece for Comic Book Resources from 2000AD’s 35th birthday celebrations

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd vs Aliens: Incubus
Lenny Zero: Zero’s Seven

Gruff 'n tuff by Andy Diggle; Art by Colin Wilson
*Go and watch ‘Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD’ to see Pat Mills laying into Andy Diggle with a passion. I think he hates the man even more than he dislikes David Bishop, another who is not without enemies. I have neither met nor dealt with any of these fine folk in any way, and have nothing but admiration for all of them! I do like to hide in the bubble of not meeting your heroes lest they disappoint you…

**To provide some context, Mills HAD lately delivered Slaine: The Secret Commonwealth, Nemesis Book X and ABC Warriors: Hellbringer, all the least well-liked of those beloved series. So he perhaps needed some kind of kick up the bum.

***The Losers is highly recommended.

****Clearly I haven’t read that many crossovers, but it’s worth noting how many of the good ones involve Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham, obvs, but also Mars Attacks! Judge Dredd. Punisher meets Archie is pretty great, too.